Question: Are you a small business owner who aspires to have a sustainable business to sell or pass along to family at some point? Are you trying to create something that is bigger than yourself, that creates jobs, helps others, generates revenue? Or even just trying to create your own job to support yourself, with no more W2 income?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, then I want you to think about this next question: Who is in your inner circle?
And I am not talking about your employees either.
For the sake of this article, your inner circle consists of the other business owners and business professionals who you know you can rely on. They will share their wisdom and opinions, listen to you vent, encourage you to take a risk, and push you to meet a deadline.
These people know you and they know your business. But their financial well-being is not dependent upon yours, so they can share their thoughts with a bit more distance than, say, a spouse or a top employee who works for you.
I would argue (and I know I’m not alone here) that having an inner circle that you connect with regularly can be hugely beneficial to your business growth. It can be lonely at the top, as I’ve mentioned previously, and it’s hard to be friends with your fellow workers when you’re the boss. This sense of loneliness can lead to burnout.
As one CEO stated in a recent Forbes article, “Being a CEO can be a lonely job. One of my biggest learnings over the last couple of years is that most problems companies face are not unique to them and having a close group of people who have had similar journeys to turn to is enormously helpful.”
Take some time to think about who that close group of people would be for you.
Who Should Be in Your Inner Circle?
In my opinion, the more diverse your circle of business buds the better.
Try to avoid finding people who are all in the same industry. While that can be handy for comparing notes on operational issues, and maybe marketing or employee recruitment, it won’t give you that full-on outsider’s perspective that is more valuable.
It helps to find business owners who have a different size business than yours. Yes, you can learn from a business that is smaller than you. And you can also share your own experiences to help a smaller business learn from your growing pains. You can also benefit from talking to business owners who have grown their business to be larger than your business, whether you desire to be that large or not.
Similarly, there is value in working with newly established businesses if you have been in business for a long time, and vice versa. Lots of things have changed even in the past few years when it comes to marketing, recruiting, operations and sales management systems. You can learn from newer owners who have embraced digital marketing and business software from the start. But as an established owner, you have learned a lot about running the business, dealing with employees, and surviving down times. So, you can share these experiences and help the newbies (hopefully) learn from your mistakes.
Connected to all of this, consider not only business diversity by industry, size and age, but also look for business owner diversity by gender, ethnicity, age, and personality. You are not looking for someone exactly like you who agrees with everything you say. Instead, it’s better to find someone who will challenge you and who will approach things from a perspective that is different than yours.
In my own Mastermind Group, I tend to be the super logical, analytical one, while my other members are far more in tune with their feelings. That’s a good check for me to be sure I am heading in the direction that helps maintain my passion and not just my paycheck.
Finding Your Inner Circle
How does one go about finding people to create an inner circle? It’s not like you want to post something on Craig’s List: “Wanted: Inner Circle”
And if you’re trying to avoid your own industry – or any potential customers or suppliers, then that makes it a bit more challenging.
You can certainly consider pursuing a more business-focused relationship with any friends or neighbors who you already know and like. Just agree to set time on a regular basis to talk about business exclusively.
Other sources of potential connections include joining a CEO Peer Group in your area, reaching out to your local Small Business Development Center or Economic Development Organization for suggestions, asking your commercial banker for ideas, or even turning to your college Alumni association.
For those of you who live in somewhat rural areas, your local options might be limited. Consider looking online as well. One huge benefit from this pandemic year is that it’s been so much easier to find ways to connect with people online. Consider looking for your fellow small business owners through Linked-In or Facebook Groups and other private communities of business owners. Or just start asking around to see who is recommended by people you already know and like.
Inner Circle Guidelines
Bear in mind that the main goal here is to find YOUR inner circle. This does not have to be a peer group or a mastermind group where there is just the one circle for all of you. While it can be nice to be in a group like that, it’s not entirely necessary.
The goal is to have a short list of people you can turn to when you are frustrated, worried, confused or excited. People who can share your enthusiasm or misery, and can also share their own similar experiences with you. You might have different people meeting different needs, like a go-to person for marketing discussions, and a different one for long-range planning.
What are some of your weaknesses when it comes to running your business? That is where you can see the value of a peer whose strength is your weakness, and vice versa.
One recent article recommended nine different types of connections you should consider seeking out for your circle. It includes types like the “super connector” who seems to know everyone. Or the “champion” who truly believes in you, and the “accountability partner” who will keep you on task with your goals. What is most valuable for you?
One important thing to remember with all of these potential inner circle members, neither you nor they are actually truly looking for someone to tell them exactly what to do. It might sound like a nice idea when faced with such uncertainty, but research shows that we do better when we feel that we have some sense of control in our own decision making.
Do you have a mastermind group that helps you with goal setting and accountability? Or are you part of a CEO Peer Group to help discuss challenging issues with like-minded individuals? How about business owners with knowledge and skillsets different from your own?
Start thinking about where the value lies – both for you and from you – and start working on creating an inner circle of your own.
Interested in connecting with a diverse group of small business owners virtually? Find and connect with business owners like you by subscribing to Learn Start Grow or following us on Linked In as I work to create a community of small business owners in small towns.